A Collaboration Like No Other

By Prathyusha Chenji, HeLP Fall 2017 Student Intern

I never thought going to law school would also entail going to medical school. Generally, it is either one beast or the other, right? So, when we were told during HeLP clinic orientation that we’d be expected to attend classes at Morehouse School of Medicine, I was definitely nervous. Though I was excited to meet the medical students, I was also very curious to see how it would all work. Where would our collaboration take us, would we all mesh well, is this going to be like 1L orientation all over again? Really the questions were endless in my mind. Now, with half a semester of clinic behind me, I have realized that the med-law student partnership is perhaps the most brilliant concept anyone has ever come up with.

Even before attending our first Morehouse class, we were introduced to a fourth-year medical student who had opted to do one of her rotations at the clinic. I did not know it then, but it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I had just received a new set of medical records for the case I was taking the lead on. Naturally, when I saw that it was a 653-page document, I felt compelled to run screaming in the opposite direction. Our resident med student, Alana, was holding office hours daily, but I did not want to haul in this large document to her on the first day. It seemed rude to just show up and drop this monster file in her lap without a heads-up. So, I set up an appointment with her, expecting that maybe we should plan a time frame of three to four hours to review the entire record thoroughly. Imagine my surprise when Alana patiently walked me through the entire record in 35 minutes. I was pretty shaken up after that.

Jokes aside, what I had perhaps underestimated was the fact that as a medical student, Alana was a pro at doing this kind of stuff. Maybe if I handed her a dense constitutional law case, she would have felt just as terrified as I had. But that’s when I began to realize that having her around was a blessing. When I read out my notes to my fellow law students in the clinic, they marveled at how much I had gotten out of my meeting with Alana. My supervising attorney, though, had that look that said: “yes, this was my plan all along.” Meeting more medical students at Morehouse was an exhilarating experience, too. By the time we had all introduced ourselves, both the law and med students in our group were captivated by the others’ stories. It was clear we all had the same vision for why we took the class: we all wanted to combat the same obstacles, but from very different perspectives.

I asked Alana about her experience in the clinic, and she agreed. “It’s really interesting working with law students,” she said, “because I get to learn a different perspective on some of the medical problems, especially what options are available to patients in terms of getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and figuring out what we can do for kids living in poor housing conditions. It’s really cool learning about all of this, and it’s nice to know that there is a resource available for these kids through the HeLP clinic.” I seek out Alana’s company whenever I can nowadays; our conversations range from health equity to systemic oppression in the justice system to our favorite HGTV shows. It really is very cool to pick her brain on topics I have never considered, while also having that shared experience of being an overworked grad student. I think we both have now accepted that there is a lot we can learn from each other and our respective fields. And in the end, we are both glad to put our skills to use helping someone out there.